GOP incumbents ousted in fight over Senate bipartisanship

Linda Menard and Tom Wagoner were coalition members.

Anchorage Daily NewsAugust 28, 2012 

Two Republican Senate incumbents lost to candidates who challenged their membership in the bipartisan coalition that has ruled the Senate for the last four years.

In the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Tea Party-backed challenger Mike Dunleavy beat one-term incumbent Linda Menard, a well-known moderate and widow of Valley legislator Curt Menard, a dentist who won office as both a Republican and Democrat. Dunleavy is the president of the Mat-Su School District.

In Kenai, Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche won over three-term incumbent Tom Wagoner, a self-professed reluctant coalition member and a former mayor of Kenai. Micciche is a conservative who said Wagoner shouldn't have joined with Democrats in the coalition. He's also a Conoco Phillips manager.

For the last two years, the Senate, with a 10-10 tie between Republicans and Democrats, has been governed by a 16-member coalition led by Republicans but with a Democratic majority. Conservative challengers to several of the Republican members, including Menard and Wagoner, argued they gave too much away to Democrats in accepting coalition caucus rules.

In a close Anchorage race in which coalition membership wasn't at issue, long-term Democratic legislator Bettye Davis was narrowly leading challenger Harry Crawford, a former House member, in a redrawn district that contained only 30 percent of her original district. The winner will face Rep. Anna Fairclough, a Republican trying to move up from the House in a district heavily tilted in her favor.

Watching the returns at Election Central, which initially favored Crawford, Davis said that Crawford had asked her to withdraw, believing he stood a better chance of defeating Fairclough. She refused and said she was surprised to see him challenge for the seat.

In an expensive battle for the right to face incumbent Democratic Sen. Hollis French, former Anchorage Assemblyman Bob Bell beat attorney Elizabeth Vazquez, who made a point of touring the West Anchorage district in her Segway. Bell had strong support from the oil industry and has vowed to lower oil taxes.

With most votes counted, Veteran Republican legislator Lesil McGuire held a comfortable lead in the primary for her senate seat in Oceanview and Bayshore over newcomer Jeff Landfield, a candidate with Tea Party support who challenged her membership in the bipartisan coalition.

Sen. Cathy Giessel, an Anchorage Republican who stayed out of the bipartisan caucus, defeated Joe Arness of Kenai, who challenged her effectiveness as a member of the four-member Senate minority.

In Fairbanks, with more than 80 percent of the vote counted, Click Bishop was the apparent victor among three Republicans in a bid to face Democrat Anne Sudkamp in an open seat.

In the House, all incumbents appeared to have turned back challengers. Among them:

• Reps. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, and Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, easily beat back Republican opponents.

• Mia Costello won comfortably over Tamara Von Gemmingen, who had challenged Costello's residency in Sand Lake District 20.

• Democratic Rep. Pete Petersen cruised to victory in House District 25 over Lynette Moreno Hinz. He'll have a tough race in November against another incumbent Republican, Lance Pruitt, whose district was partially merged with Petersen's by the Redistricting Board.

In other House races:

• Democrat Harriet Drummond, an Anchorage Assembly member and former school board member, appeared to have won her primary for an open seat in District 16. Republican Jimmy Crawford beat Roman Romanovski.

• After leading most of the night, Democrat Cal Williams fell behind and appeared to lose to Geran Tarr for the House seat in District 17 held by Sharon Cissna, who quit to run for Congress. Republican Cean Stevens was unopposed in the district, which includes Mountain View and Airport Heights.

• Republican Lora Reinbold beat two other Republicans for the chance to take the Eagle River seat being vacated by Fairclough in her run for the Senate. Democrat Roberta Goughnour was unopposed in the primary.

• Rep. Kurt Olson of Soldotna turned back challenger Gary Knopp in the Republican primary there. Rep. Paul Seaton of Homer, one of the House's most moderate Republicans, easily beat challenger Jon Faulkner, who campaigned as a strong conservative.

• Bennie Nageak of Barrow won a four-person Democratic primary to replace Rep. Reggie Joule of Kotzebue, who retired. Regional rivalries between Kotzebue and Barrow often dominate campaigns for that Arctic Seat, District 40.

Reach Richard Mauer at or 257-4345.

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